Moheli scops-owl (Otus moheliensis)

Spanish: Autillo de Moheli
GenusOtus (1)
SizeLength: 20 – 22 cm (2)

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

Discovered as recently as 1998, the Critically Endangered Moheli scops-owl is only found on a single mountain ridge on the island of Mohéli. This species comprises individuals of two different colour forms: the first has plumage which is gingery brown and weakly marked with a patterning of streaks and bars; the second has darker brown plumage, which is strongly marked with streaks and wave-like patterns (2). Both colour forms have yellow-green eyes, grey legs and black beaks (4). The Moheli scops-owl is highly vocal, producing hissing whistles and screeches (2).

The Moheli scops-owl is only found on the island of Mohéli, part of the Comoro Island group located between Madagascar and Africa, where it is restricted to a mountain ridge in the centre of the island. Its total range is believed to be around 21 square kilometres, encompassing the highest point of the ridge, 790 metres above sea level, and the surrounding upper slopes (2) (5).

This species inhabits intact, dense, humid forest, which only remains on the upper slopes of Mohéli Island’s central mountain ridge (2).

As a recent discovery, there is currently little information about the Moheli scops-owl’s biology. It is known to be active at night, nesting in tree cavities during the day where the colouring and markings of its plumage enable it to blend in with tree bark and dead leaves (4).

The loss of forest on Mohéli has been severe; in 1995, only five percent of the island still had intact, dense, humid forest. Underplanting is one of the main problems affecting the remaining forest, a process in which food-producing plants, such as bananas, are planted within forests, where they alter the natural vegetation composition and eventually cause the degradation of the forest habitat. Aside from habitat loss, specific threats to the Moheli scops-owl are hunting, and invasive species, such as rats, which may eat its eggs and compete with it for food. At present, the highland region inhabited by the Moheli scops-owl is entirely unprotected. Estimates made in 2000 indicated that this owl’s total population amounted to just 400 individuals, therefore, even a small-scale, adverse event could result in its extinction (2).

There are no conservation measures currently in place for the Moheli scops-owl. However, proposals have been made to protect this species by extending the Réserve Marine de Nioumachoua, so that it includes the highland forest regions that the owl inhabits. With so little known about this species’ biology, there is a requirement for further research so that effective protective measures can be developed. Increasing the awareness of Mohéli’s inhabitants about the existence of the Moheli scops-owl and its rarity would also be beneficial for its conservation (2).

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  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2011)